AML compliance may not be a headline grabber, but it’s certainly a big discussion point in the profession. AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth explains why, and what you need to consider managing your own AML compliance.

 

While business and the general public seem enthused (or concerned) about artificial intelligence and its seemingly endless array of potential applications, at ‘accountancy ground level’ the topic of anti-money laundering (AML) – in respect of compliance – is a big deal.

Why is it a hot topic? Well, there’s no particular ‘thing’, but a series of developments.

Firstly, the bar for AML compliance has got increasingly higher across various legislative/regulatory iterations – for businesses, practitioners, and licensing bodies alike. Quality assurance reviews by the accounting institutes look at AML very stringently indeed (as they too are monitored). AdvanceTrack’s own assurance review by the ICAEW certainly had AML as a high priority.

Secondly, AML is closely linked with the onboarding process – certainly in terms of running those initial checks on prospective clients. The onboarding process has been a long-running area for technology providers to offer solutions, and so it makes sense that the increasing compliance requirements of AML would see developments on both sides of that coin. As an example, the launch of Firmcheck in the UK, which offers both AML and onboarding solutions. 

Finally, MTD – or rather, MTD being pushed down the timeline. There is always a big compliance or regulatory area that pushes accountants into looking at how they work, and considering what changes may be required. And, if tech can ‘solve’ that ‘problem’, then the solutions providers like to let us know about their offering.

An ongoing process

There are a lot of old-school AML tech tools in the market – many of which still require a lot of manual intervention. So, it seems ripe for a new wave of AML tech to step up.

But, as with all technology, there are a number of important considerations to be made around how those offerings interlink and interact with other tech you use, and the data in which it accesses. And the ‘manual’ part of all of this mustn’t be overlooked (despite my earlier comment). Do you have processes in place that will flag up issues, and then will you act upon those issues accordingly?

We must never forget that digitalisation, automation, and workflow can support how we run our business, but this is all to support you as an accounting professional, to make informed judgement calls and take appropriate actions.

Finally – AML tech isn’t really about a ‘point solution’, because AML requires ongoing supervision of clients (and an understanding of your firm’s AML policies, procedures and internal management). It’s not a ‘fun topic’; you may not even want to refer to it as a ‘hot’ one… but it is very, very important.

Vipul Sheth is MD of AdvanceTrack Outsourcing

If you’d like to talk to AdvanceTrack about support with your practice’s operations, please get in touch by clicking here.

This blog is not about technology… no really. OK, I will talk about technology, but more as a scene-setter than anything else.

Instead, this blog is about you and me. Humans. Or to be more precise, humans that undertake accounting and tax work (and the subset that provide broader business advice).

But the tech first.

QuickBooks/TurboTax/Mailchimp group Intuit has filed some 700 patents focused on AI. Its CEO Sasan Goodarzi announced earlier this month that it is embedding AI into a new operating system (GenOS), which will ‘solve tax, accounting, marketing, cashflow and personal finance challenges’.

There is no mention of accountants, tax advisers or business consultants and their role is this new model.

So, is that it for the accountancy profession? Certainly not. Is it the end for it in its current iteration? Perhaps yes.

AI works by aggregating data and making a ‘best fit’ case for a request from us, humans, to provide us with an ‘answer’. This data is quantitative or qualitative. We have seen AI tools produce some very clever ‘scripts’ upon request though, in truth, most of these don’t quite fit the bill – and require us humans to further interpret and edit.

Perhaps the ‘clear-cut’ nature of numbers will be a different story then? Well, we’ve had computational equipment for decades, and the profession is still alive and well.

Technicians and advisers

It could be argued that the profession is evolving – that as tax and accounting becomes more complex, and businesses require more hand-holding and advice, that we will see a greater distinction between ‘technicians’ and advisers’. This is true, but there is a tension – that relationships have often been borne from initial compliance work. In other words, for the technician/adviser distinction to be made, there will have to be changes in practices’ structure and approach.

The other thing to consider is: micro and small businesses are messy. They’re driven by people with skills and ambition, for whom the numbers, marketing and ‘rules’ get in the way of what they really want to do. They also operate in subtly different ways to each. That’s a lot of lifting and transactional automation for AI to comprehend.

Finally, and back to us as humans doing business. It can be very lonely. And accountants are in a wonderful position to not only manage compliance, but to provide insight on all the information that automation and AI has formed on OUR behalf. Business owners want advice and support. Ideally, from a wise head (that has the rest of a human attached to it). That wise human could (and probably should) be you.

Vipul Sheth is founder and MD of AdvanceTrack Outsourcing

If you’d like to talk to us about preparing your practice for the future, please contact us by clicking here.

There’s fascinating reading on AccountingWeb – it’s released new research into the most commonly-used tech platforms by UK accountants (and, by definition, their clients).

The State of the Nation report shows that there are four ‘big’ players in the market: FreeAgent; Intuit QuickBooks; Sage; and Xero. While this will come as little surprise, what is more eye-opening is that usage of these technologies isn’t changing greatly. The report also cites increased usage among 14 other accounting software vendors.

The report also cites the potential for HgCapital-backed Bright Group to bring its Surf Accounts cloud product into the UK to bolster recently-acquired workflow tech AccountancyManager alongside cloud payroll. Will this create a big fifth player?

The findings are more interesting when put in context of accountants and their working practices. Or, more precisely, the working practices of accountants and their clients.

Everyone doing things differently

Do we need dozens of bookkeeping, accounting and tax tools? With millions of micro and small UK businesses, it paves the way for a busy and diverse software market. However, while these businesses all have their own quirks and ways of doing things, much of their financial management and reporting requirements are fairly similar – and much driven by statutory accounts/tax filing.

But if businesses manage their finances and bookkeeping differently – even if only slightly, then that is a workflow and process headache for accountants.

It’s really difficult, when trying to help and support clients, to tell them to capture information differently – or even use different software. Newly formed practices have an advantage of setting out how their practice will work, what tools it will use and, then, set out a formulaic way that clients will work with them – sometimes only working with clients who use certain platforms.

In reality, there are very few – if any – practices that can do everything in exactly the same way with all their clients. However, if you can get the majority of clients working in a systematic way with your practice, then there are huge benefits that could follow: efficiency; accuracy; and a better utilisation of the practice’s resource (namely, its people). Bear in mind, this whole issue will become mission-critical when MTD for ITSA comes into effect.

It is not easy systemising your firm and synchronising clients, but we work with firms and their clients to make things better. Our team supports ambitious practices to grow. These practices see opportunities to outsource work and free up their team to provide broader or more valuable services. This also enables them to de-risk recruitment by letting us take on the workload.

We’ve even helped accountants’ clients to migrate onto new accounting technology (you can read more here).

The blog started by highlighting the huge variance in technology options, borne out of a huge market with literally hundreds of thousands of different ways of working. But we see the accounting practices that systemise, reduce their workflows and processes to a manageable number, as the ones with the greatest opportunity to thrive in an extremely testing environment.

Vipul Sheth is founder and MD of AdvanceTrack Outsourcing

Would you like to improve your processes and free up your practice’s resources? Do you have clients that need help with moving data to the cloud? Get in touch with the AdvanceTrack cloud team.

The AccountingWeb article ‘Accounting platforms gear up for battle of the five armies’ can be found by clicking here.

Being ‘more valuable’ to clients can mean many different things, but all iterations involve understanding your people’s current skills, and how you work together to adapt and evolve both them and your practice

Technological advances in the accountancy space, whether it’s for your back office or client-facing, have been rapid in recent years. It does feel that anything is possible.

Despite these advances, coupled with the technical nature of accountants’ offering, it is still a ‘people game’. You must get to know and understand your clients’ requirements, and understand your own team members’ personalities and skills.

Therefore, using tech to automate your services and provide a broader and richer offering requires more than IT investment.

 

Where do you start? Is it the client, the tech or your people?

Paul Richmond, managing director of people consultants theGrogroup, says that you must first set out a vision and strategy to deliver future success. “An accountant in 2030 will need to be an adviser, tech-savvy and a change expert,” he explains. “They will need to be widely connected and know people who help clients. Key talents will need to be curiosity, adaptability, emotional intelligence and a growth mindset.”

But these skills and personality traits are
difficult to capture in one person. And from a cultural perspective, practices have focused on compliance services that are defined by collating historic data – which means forward-looking services will require a shift in culture.

“It’s not an overnight switch. You can’t just say your job is going to change now; it’s an impossible thing to do,” says Aynsley Damery, CEO of business advisory platform Clarity. “‘Historic’ is ingrained in accounting, the ethos of preparing things based on the last year, so there requires a shift into the unknown.”

A key skill for all client-facing staff is empathy, he explains, as it puts your people in a position to listen and understand what clients are going through. “Most employees don’t know what it’s like to understand what it’s like running a business… the fears, hopes and challenges – everything a client’s going through,” says Damery. “It’s incumbent on leaders to help staff understand this, so when clients are upset or cross they will turn to you to share with.

“It is about your people becoming sounding boards – not necessarily ‘business gurus’. They need to be open, help understand the issues and challenges, and to avoid asking ‘closed’ questions,” Damery adds.

 

Focus on the process

Beyond strategy and culture comes process, setting out what you will do and how you will bring your practice closer to defining who undertakes which tasks.

“I’d map out the functions of the firm as a whole,” says Accounts & Legal director Stuart Hurst. “Rather than individual job descriptions, I’d look at job processes and ask people how they get from A to B to C to D… then ask the best way of doing it and what the barriers are to it improving.”

Setting out this path encourages your people to change and mould according to your overall direction of travel, rather than a pre-defined job description. “This way you’re changing the day-to-day… otherwise you create resistance,” says Hurst.

Once you understand where your practice is and where it’s heading, alongside a broad definition of how your people need to work and communicate with clients, what is next?

“I’m a big fan of really understanding what type of people you have in your team,” says Hurst. “Those that are more naturally extrovert will likely get more involved with clients and will be an easier conversion towards more proactive support.”

 

Ask the right questions

Clarity’s Damery believes a more nuanced approach is required, suggesting that extroverts aren’t always the best fit with certain clients. “It’s more about those that listen and ask the right questions,” he suggests.

“Remember that you’re not throwing people on stage and asking them to perform, and there isn’t ‘one way’ to train everybody – find methodologies that work for certain individuals. Build a culture of trust where people can fail safely, let them make mistakes in a controlled environment, and build trust and learn from it.”

You are looking to instil into your people that they need to open their mindset, that the firm is on a journey and you want them as part of that – though some things will change.

TheGrogroup’s Richmond poses an example of how the mindset and attitude must move. “One of the key frustrations we have is when accountants say: ‘We did a client survey and scored 8/10’. Well, you would because you asked the question: ‘Are we good accountants and do we give you enough help?’ To which the answer will be ‘yes’,” he says.

“However, what if you were bold and said: ‘To what extent do we help you with your strategy? Have we helped you grow your business this year? Do we enable you to grow your client base and suppliers?’ Ask that, and the response is likely to be 3/10.”

Damery suggests that taking such actions to change your firm’s direction doesn’t mean turning it upside down. Changes can be iterative and not necessarily revolutionary.

“There is still a place for people to do mainly technical work and a need for that,” he says. “Clients aren’t generally looking for anything mindblowing but focus, awareness and accountability – that shouldn’t be scary.

“Empower your team and give them the confidence to ask clients what you can help them with – ask the basic questions and respond in their language. They want help with the numbers, but also planning and the impact of the numbers and what different projections mean for them.”

 

Learn from each other

If you have junior team members that are more comfortable with using new apps, and some senior members very comfortable with having valuable conversations with clients, then there is the opportunity for both to learn from each other.

“Certainly, if you’re looking to upscale people in terms of facing clients, then you have to bring them along to the meetings; there needs to be a mindset of coaching staff,” says Stuart Hurst.

Paul Richmond also extols the virtues of training. “If your firm is becoming more adviser-led then training and recruitment must reflect that. You’re looking at relationship skills, EQ, influencing, persuasion and the ability to lead clients – ensuring your people want to know as much about clients as possible,” Richmond explains.

 

Be adaptable

As suggested earlier, adaptability is a key trait in a firm looking to support clients more proactively. And understanding your people’s ability to adapt may only come through experience. “While it’s trainable it’s much easier to recruit it,” says Richmond.

“You need to be having conversations with your individuals and using tools such as the nine-box grid to evaluate potential, and their appetite to adjust and develop. But people are either motivated by change and challenge or afraid of it.”

Hurst says: “The worst-case scenario is that someone doesn’t fit. Then it’s about reallocating – you need to have the right people in the right seat. That is not necessarily an easy or instant decision, so think carefully about performance management.

“Sometimes you have to nurture where you’re heading. With advisory it can be a bit more of an open conversation and by nature vary – certainly by client-by-client.”

Richmond asks you to consider which KPIs and metrics are being used to measure your firm’s success in operating with a different model.

“What do you want to hear back from a client?” he asks. “‘My accountant is always there for me and interested in how I do’. Then you must measure how often people contact clients or suggest ideas to them – what gets measured gets done. So, forget ‘who has hit budget’ and instead ask questions about client communication or adaptability.”

 

  • Kevin Reed is a freelance journalist and former editor of Accountancy Age.

AdvanceTrack has teamed up with business advisory platform Clarity to offer clients a way to understand and improve their business

We have exciting news of a new partnership, bringing together AdvanceTrack’s outsourcing capability with support to build and deliver a top-level advisory service. Clarity has partnered with us to provide an exclusive offer for AdvanceTrack’s clients.

Clarity is a business advisory platform harnessing AI, machine learning and blockchain, which uses the right combination of people, process and tech to transform the business advisory services of accounting firms worldwide.

Clarity’s offering helps practices support clients in understanding their numbers – and how to improve them. Accountants can help them create a step-by-step plan to build a better business and, through a structured online data room, help access the cash and investment to grow or exit. The Clarity platform empowers 100% of accounting teams to help 100% of their small business clients with business advisory.

Its founder and CEO is Aynsley Damery – a qualified accountant and former CEO of a multi-award winning niche advisory accounting firm for entrepreneurs in the UK.

 

“Our world is now so connected – both people and devices, and the ability to reach customers is no longer restricted by borders,” said Aynsley. “The move to the cloud and the ability to analyse big data opens up incredible opportunities for many accounting firms. Harnessing the power of technology effectively has become critical to gain competitive advantage.”

 

 

 

 

AdvanceTrack founder and MD Vipul Sheth said that, by outsourcing, accountants should be freed to drive client value. “We want practices to break free from spending all their time on compliance work that can be managed and processed in a better way,” he said.

“And by freeing them from these bonds, they can make much better use of their time understanding and advising their clients on growth, or their longer-term aims.”

Get in touch with #TeamClarity on in**@cl********.com to find out how you can benefit from our partner programme, plus an advanced implementation plan to get your firm on track.

scaling for growth

It was ‘accountants galore’ on AdvanceTrack’s latest webinar, ‘Scaling for Growth? Building an Advisory Mindset and Firm’, which discussed the cultural and strategic approach towards making a practice invaluable to its clients.

AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth started the conversation by highlighting the key challenges of changing how a practice – or any organisation – operates. These include altering mindsets, successfully adopting new technology and embedding change into the new normal.

“People are fearful of change, and will look to maintain the status quo,” said Sheth. “So leadership is required to change doubters to believers, and champions are needed to keep it all on track.”

Joe David from accountancy firm Nephos said that his background as an accountant in industry gave him a mindset that creating and analysing good data was key in supporting the making of decisions. This led him down the path of creating an advisory- and technology-led practice.

Clarity’s Aynsley Damery said that established firms have to go that bit further when it comes to driving change, particularly if ingrained in providing services based purely on clients’ historical information. “It’s about looking forward as a firm, and looking forward on behalf of your clients,” said Damery. He said that ‘champions’ within the firm, who will help instil that mindset while managing change projects, were vital. “They’re so important in terms of connectivity between management and the team – interpreting the vision and how it will work.”

Practice Ignition’s Trent McLaren said: “You must set out from the top, across the entire firm, the direction and why you’re changing. You also have to let them know about progression, or you’ll inevitably end up with silos of knowledge.”

Click here to access the webinar.

tech, Xerocon, outsourcing

In September, we were at Xerocon Brisbane. Whilst we were there, we had the opportunity to catch up with our Australian clients, see some new faces and get the latest updates in tech. 

The biggest move we noticed in Australia is the increasing move into SMSF and bookkeeping for clients by accounting firms.  Clients want a holistic service from their trusted friend – their accountant!

Often the two go hand in hand and firms are increasingly asking us to manage the SMSF record keeping for the individual fund, but more importantly, the business owner wants the accountant to look after the business’ financial records.  This trend, which started a while back is turning into a flood, with businesses recognising that their energies are best spent in driving their business forward. 

Their accountant is now better able to help clients with Cashflow management using tools like Float, Fluidly, Fathom and Futrli for example. They can do this, because they are responsible for the regular production of management accountants, all enabled through technology. This was a very important growth area. 

In 2018 we wrote about the top three issues facing Australian firms

Talking with professionals this year in Brisbane we found that outsourcing is becoming more of an accepted way to deliver work. Some firms also wanted to hear about our dedicated offshore resource. 

But most successful firms among them have truly embraced the fact that their role has changed. 

They’re outsourcing as default, from compliance through to reporting, so that they can have a consistently proactive rather than reactive relationship with their clients. 

What moved them to make this decision?

1. They realised they’re not in the business of accounting

 

What?

A confusing statement for an audience of accountants. 

Our friends at GoProposal wrote a really great blog titled ‘You’re no longer in the Accounting business’.

It’s just as true in Australia as it is in the UK, perhaps even more so. 

When we meet accountants we often find ourselves asking them – what is it that your clients want? Yes, they want to save tax. Yes, they want to know that their affairs are sorted. But what do they really want? What are their goals for the growth of their business, for their family, for their future. 

The successful firms are now in the bigger-picture business. They’re having conversations with their clients about the things that really matter. 

There’s a growing demand for wealth management advice

One of those bigger picture conversations that’s in demand more and more in Australia is wealth management. There’s an increasing need for advice in personal and business wealth strategy, pensions and retirement, and many accountancy firms are filling the gap by moving into wealth advisory services.

As more individuals manage their own pensions with a self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF), the work involved is also rapidly growing for those accountants who have moved into the wealth space. This means two things:

  • The firm will be pushed to deliver more compliance work
  • The firm owner needs to free up more time firm-wide to have bigger conversations with clients and offer more value

As these two things happen in tandem, it means more training, stronger systems and consistent processes. This is where the need for outsourcing has become more than just offloading compliance work. At AdvanceTrack, our goal is to help you create the business structure to have the very best conversations with your clients. 

2. They understood they need to create the right environment for today’s staff

 

We partner with firms in the UK and AUS/NZ and we’re seeing that the same issues arise when it comes to staff retention. Once qualified, if not pushed to their potential, staff are leaving smaller practices for the big accountancy firms or migrating to tech companies. 

Australia is further along than the UK in digital development, and the tech space is an attractive option for graduates who are now learning to add value at an earlier stage in their career. 

At the same time, we’re seeing desktop software being discontinued. BGL, Australia’s leading SMSF admin software, has retired its desktop product in December. 

It’s adapt or be overtaken when it comes to transitioning to new technologies and giving clients real-time information. Business owners can access their finances at the click of a button now, meaning that roles have changed whether we like it or not. Cloud integration specialist, Chief Data Officer, Virtual FD – These are the next generation of job titles.

Your staff already don’t want to be stuck delivering low-level work now, and they won’t want to be stuck delivering low-level work in the future. And remember, it’s not why you became an accountant either! 

The firms who are seeing real growth realised early on that their people are working at the wrong level, and they’re outsourcing their core services to make room for more skilled, challenged and satisfied staff. 

Ask yourself these two questions

If you’re stuck in a compliance cycle right now, and you can’t see a way out of the hamster wheel, first ask yourself:

  • What do my clients really want?
  • What do my staff really want?

Then take a look at how you can go about joining the global community of firms on this outsourcing journey, and realise your new potential as an evolved accountant. 

 

Is outsourcing the same as offshoring?

In short, no. 

But we won’t end the blog there, because this is one of the most common hesitations from firms who are new to the idea of outsourcing, or just starting to dip their toes in. There’s a big misunderstanding that outsourcing and offshoring are just two different words for the same thing. 

At AdvanceTrack, we offer both offshoring and outsourcing, and the model that works best for you depends on the stage you’re at as a firm, and how your processes work. 

The compact answer

Offshoring = giving work to a third party overseas, or moving functions of your own business function overseas

Outsourcing = giving work to a third party anywhere

It is becoming more common for businesses to offshore processes to companies overseas

The word ‘offshore’ has some negative connotations to it, especially in the world of finance. Don’t worry – when we talk about offshoring here, it has nothing to do with international banking. Offshoring refers to a business contracting work out to another country, or moving their own business abroad, in order to take advantage of favourable economic conditions.

Offshoring isn’t exclusive to product manufacturing. It is becoming more common for businesses to offshore processes to companies overseas where the cost of labour is lower. It’s all legit and there’s nothing to stop you doing so. 

The benefits of our offshoring model compared to others:

  • You can scale with confidence: Build a team knowing that you can scale it, without the day to day IT and Training challenges
  • It’s secure & quality is assured: It is managed and controlled by international Quality and Security Standards audited by BSI. 
  • You have holiday and sickness cover: You can save yourself time and HR hassles and never lose a day of production.

You can find out more about why we outsource to India here.

You can outsource to a service provider anywhere, in order to utilise greater expertise

Outsourcing refers simply to the practice of hiring a third party or individual to carry out work that has historically been carried out in-house. You can outsource to a service provider anywhere, in order to utilise greater expertise, or free up more time for you to focus on the work you love, that you’re best at. That service provider may be in the same country or even the same local area as you, or they may be overseas. 

The benefits of outsourcing:

  • Years of expertise – without having to take on a new employee and train them up to the level you require, you can give the work to a specialist with years of experience under their belt. 
  • You have more time to focus on more important areas – you won’t have to spend all your time and energy on the process you’re outsourcing, freeing you up to focus on the areas that need your attention. 
  • You can save on tech – you can rest assured your expert has the tech they need to do the job. If you’re not having to provide the infrastructure to support the work in-house, you can save on technology expenses. 
  • A difference in time zone may be advantageous – you may find outsourcing outside of your time zone works better. You can go to sleep and wake up to completed work!

You can read more about why we suggest outsourcing here

Saving money is desirable, but the decision to outsource should not be driven by the desire for cheap work

Where the confusion between offshoring and outsourcing is most detrimental is the perceived benefit of cheap labour – that the point of either is to simply deliver your existing services or products at a cheaper cost. Saving money is desirable, of course. Who doesn’t love to save money? But you may find that spending less money results in a higher cost to your relationships with clients. 

Our clients don’t outsource to us because they want us to do the more manual work at a cheaper rate. For starters, how would you go about deciding what your ‘cheaper’ work is?

Your compliance function is your core work – the work that needs to be done well and done consistently. It isn’t something you want just anyone to do. You certainly don’t want to compromise your high level reporting and life-changing advice for the sake of cheap rates either. 

Our clients work with us for our expertise in the industry of accounting, for our desire to make them more proactive in delivering value to their clients – but mostly because they have the right mindset. 

The most successful outsourcing is driven by a growth mindset

It’s not about saving money, but it’s also not exclusive to the big firms either. We’ve worked with Sole Practitioners, two office practices, multi-partner practices and major international groups. We’ve found it’s not about the size, it’s about the attitude. The firms that see the most success are those who are able to look at their current offering and say “I want to be able to do more”. Those who don’t want to be stuck doing compliance only. Those who don’t want to see staff leave to do higher level work elsewhere. Those who want to be an integral part of their client’s business strategy instead of waiting on a monthly conversation. 

We wrote more about those types of firms here.

Choose the engagement model that works best for you

Do you want to:

  • Do more of the work you love?
  • Improve the client experience by having the time to offer more value?
  • Free up space to train more of the team to deliver your high level work?
  • Have the processes in place to make more profit?

Great! All you need is a little help figuring out which model suits you best. 

Scalable Delivery Model (Outsourcing)

  • You have a standardised process
  • You have fluctuating demand across the year
  • You understand deadlines and will work with our teams to get the process right
  • You understand that a team supports you

Dedicated Offshore Delivery (Offshoring)

  • You don’t have a standardised approach
  • You have steady workloads across the year
  • Your service is quite bespoke to your clients
  • You want to speak to the same team members every day

Ask yourself where your business is right now, and what you want to achieve. Then let us help you figure out which option is best for you. Take this short questionnaire to tell us about your outsourcing needs. It only takes a few minutes. 

What has technology-driven change meant for practitioners at the coalface? We get the detail from four accountants about how their role has evolved as part of creating a fit-for-purpose and modern practice.


Stephen Smallwood is managing director of Herefordshire-based practice Thorne Widgery.

What’s your current role?

As managing director, I try and run the business ‘as a business’. For the running of the business, the fact that I’m an accountant is almost incidental. I do much less client work than I used to.

I’ve always enjoyed tech work more than compliance. I get a great deal of satisfaction from making IT systems work and delivering value, rather than filling in a statutory report.

We’ve been actively involved in moving from a traditional practice to one of the leading proponents of IT systems – not hardware and cables, but systems for how you run your business. We were awarded Small Firms Innovator of the Year at the British Accountancy Awards last year.

How has your role developed, and why?

In the past five to ten years, I’ve moved from being a typical, though progressive, accountant serving clients, to being a director of a business that operates in the professional services sector.

We’re using Xero and its practice management module (XPM) and have converted to the cloud. We love it for our clients, but to my astonishment we’ve also ended up helping other accounting practices get the best out of modern and accessible software by helping them evolve their own back office. Altogether it has completely revolutionised how we go about things.

What has that meant for the running of the practice? Is it part of a broader strategic change?

I’d say that supporting other practices is now 15% of our business, which has developed from ‘Xero’ over the last three years. No accountant is normally allowed to get close and personal with other firms of accountants, but we do because of our knowledge of XPM. The result of that is we get to see some really interesting, good examples of practices, and we learn as well.

Our screens are full of pictures and graphs that allow us to analyse up-to-date information and find trends.

Do you prefer what you’re doing now?

It’s so exciting and so much more fun. Hereford is a small pond for us to fish so it has got us out and about and we’ve become a national practice.


Nathan Lewis is a client relationship manager at Bristol-based d&t Chartered Accountants.

What’s your current role?

As tax senior within the practice, I look at tax compliance and returns – along with some advisory work as well. I help junior members of staff, alongside dealing with HMRC enquiries – my background as someone who worked for the Inland Revenue and then during its merger to become HM Revenue & Customs helps.

How has your role developed, and why?

I see it as an evolution of tasks. The first online tax returns filed at the Revenue were printed off and then manually entered. And then, as I went into practice, tax software meant that boxes of clients’ receipts were no longer required.

Tech has also changed us from being a local company to an international one, where we can communicate over Skype. With Xero and QuickBooks you can even ‘take over’ a client’s desktop to show them how to use the software.

These tech platforms allow us to have much quicker access to client information. This allows us to review it more quickly, and plan for the future, rather than view information retrospectively.

What has it meant for the running of the practice and client service?

The tech enables one-man-band-style accountants to do more; so we have to use information and increase our value to clients – show them the extra things we can do.

The tax landscape is going to continue to change – HMRC wants to reduce the number of returns it receives – so we will look to offer more advisory-focused services and tax planning rather than looking backwards.

Up-to-date information is going to become even more important. Look at IHT for example, having the ability to see a client’s position and plan things such as gifts out of income for the years ahead.


Andrew Perrettis cloud accounting manager at TC Group (formerly Taylorcocks).

What’s your current role?

It covers lots of different things: the main role is to review cloud software and help staff and clients use technology. For clients, I help them with the scoping process to best choose tech solutions, then onto implementation and training.

As there’s only one of me, I’m also training team members so they can offer basic advice around accountancy software and add-ons.

How has your role developed, and why?

The role began officially in January 2018. I’ve been at TC for more than 11 years, qualifying as an accountant and then working with another manager to support a partner with their portfolio of clients.

I was looking after fewer clients than the other manager but my clients required more work: bookkeeping, monthly accounts, management reports. And then we looked at a way of managing my clients more effectively. Between the partner and myself we developed a process to get clients onto Xero using automated invoice capture, through to bookkeeping and reporting. With every client on the same process it made the whole thing much smoother.

Once we had 30 clients onboard, we looked to take it out across our other offices. I became more internally focused during 2017 as this process went on – and so I transitioned over my clients to other staff towards the end of that year.

What has it meant for the running of the practice and client service?

All bookkeeping across offices is done on Xero – we had shied away from the service because it wasn’t profitable. Now we actively go to win that and their whole process.

We do very much report back to clients – adding value through meeting people and discussing their up-to-date information.

Do you prefer what you’re doing now?

It’s exciting: working with staff and seeing our offices; working with clients on projects that provide value to them, teaching them about tech they wouldn’t otherwise be aware of.

My work is less accountancy-focused now, but clearly I retain the fundamentals. I do lots of CPD-accredited training related to my role – so it’s not a problem keeping that up.


David Rudd is senior client manager and business growth accountant at Colchester-based Wood and Disney, an AdvanceTrack client.

What’s your current role?

If a client has any issue I’m there to help them deal with it. Sometimes that can be historic compliance issues, but more recently it’s about ‘where they want to go’, ‘what will be the impact of me doing A, B or C’.

I’ll try and get to the heart of it – to understand what they really want to do; often their direction is not tax-related at all.

How has your role developed?

I’ve been here three years. At first it was similar to what I’d done before: accounts; corporate tax; and returns. Now everything’s in the cloud and in one place it becomes much easier to project forward for our clients – this leads to project work that isn’t about just compliance.

One client had 50% of turnover tied up in debtors – we then became their back office so they could focus on the business. Now they’ve progressed and have their own bookkeeper, and we have moved onto strategic analysis at board level – they have a bigger team and the next set of issues to deal with, but their financial performance has skyrocketed.

I now look at tech and see if it can break… then, if it works, how can we evolve it to make it even better for us? We’ve looked at every process, every single thing we do – can we do it better, find a way to evolve it, or speed it up to get a better result for the client?

What has that meant for the running of the practice?

It means we’re more goals-focused, which leads us to ask clients where they want to get to.

Using AdvanceTrack to take on accounts preparation and bookkeeping has freed us up to do other things.

While this created the opportunity for us to do different things, we then had to structure the team to work suited to them. We created an organisational structure to work out where we needed to head. Then we underwent DISC profiling to understand what people liked and what they should be doing.

If clients need specialist advice we now have strategic alliances in place… nearly every decision they make, they ask us first.

If we solve those problems then the tech will never replace that, because it’s about trust and helping people, that’s how we look at it. Tech’s not enough to solve the complex problems people face.

Have you had to learn new things?

It’s certainly taught me how to better speak to clients, and then I flipped it [onto managing director Peter Disney and operations director Brendon Howlett] and did it to them…

I’d never had or taken a board meeting or ‘taken charge’ of things – so that’s been transformative for me. That’s all from Brendon and Peter pushing me. I’ve also had some soft skills training, which was massively important – to better understand people.

AdvanceTrack’s webinar series contains lots of insight to help you set out the direction for your practice. We round up a chat with Receipt Bank’s Sam Horner on ‘the future is now’ for accountants, and highlight our other online discussions

AdvanceTrack has a great catalogue of webinars for practitioners. Topics range from how to approach bookkeeping, through to credit control and even marketing advice – in conjunction with some of the UK’s top accountancy experts.

We’ve included an excerpt from a webinar with Receipt Bank’s Sam Horner: The Next Generation of Accounting. This wide-ranging discussion sets the scene for how and why advisers must look at their practice’s operations as part of a strategy to develop value for a modern client.

Sam is joined by AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth in the chat.

 

Starting point

Vipul Sheth:When we talk about the cloud, an indicator of how far a practice has gone down this path is the number of apps and add-ons they use alongside the core bookkeeping product. It’s an indicator of how far you’ve gone down the cloud journey – are you giving clients real-time information?

Sam Horner:The issue we see with early adopters of the cloud is they take on the bookkeeping service and see it as a silver bullet, but the cloud is more powerful when combined with everything – whether that’s apps for accounts, invoicing, chasing debt and so on.

VS:Real efficiencies come from using other add-ons. And optical character reading (OCR) is a key part of data capture.

 

Factors driving change

SH:MTD does have a say in this, but a lot of the change is being driven by clients. It’s about the way millennials and Generation Z communicate and live their life. Conversations I hear where ‘we use our phones for an alarm, go downstairs and listen to Spotify, tell Alexa to change TV channel, get in the car and it tells you how to get to work, then at work everything’s offline’… The tech stops and they don’t engage with cloud apps in the same way as at home, so the drive and shift is coming from how they operate in their personal life.

VS:If accounting practices have a great relationship with long-standing clients, then they must appreciate that their clients’ business will hand over to their kids – and they’ll expect information over their smartphone. They’ll question why financials aren’t available online. So, firms need champions who can at least have conversations about how their firm’s going to develop.

SH:There is a big question about ‘how do I get clients to change’ and educate them? But you might be surprised, there can be preconceptions about established clients – the previous generations.

VS:The real difference we see with working with clients online is that with regular interaction, your firm can spot gaps where things are missing, rather than getting well past year-end and find things are missing. Then you have to make assumptions on behalf of the client.

We see MTD as just another button to press, for those that are on cloud. However, some think that if you’re making processes automated and ‘easier’, the client will actually want fees lowered.

SH:Well, then you have to show the benefits of the technology. If you can give a client their accounts by the third of the month, then to the client it’s as close to real-time as possible and helps them make decisions. One of our practice clients made this move and offered a premium service to their clients: 30% took up the premium service. But, in reality, the partners aren’t really doing anything different but have created more revenue.

And firms are having conversations where, after adopting tech, they put clients onto fixed fees across a period, and the client is happy.

VS:But where it frees the accountant is for other services: R&D reviews, tax planning meetings and so on. These things were hard to do, but now all clients can be seen because you have access to their data in real-time.

This morphs into CFO-style services. Many businesses can’t afford a full-time accounting professional in their firm. But real-time access enables them to have better conversations, almost as their CFO. I know a practitioner who specialises in a sector, and can now benchmark the client base.

 

The next generation of job roles

VS:Lots of firms we’re working with can perform the CFO role; using tech to capture and process information. They then use our team in many instances to do the bits that technology can’t. We call this ‘systemising the unsystemisable’.

SH:At Receipt Bank we say ‘it’s great to have badges and logos on your website of products, but they just enable you – don’t dine out on them’. They just power what you do. The tech is there to make yourself easier.

For the next title: Chief Data Officer or analyst. This role comes as the government is getting tighter and tighter in the risk management side of sharing of data.

VS:This role is about making sure the integration piece is properly run and tested. In smaller firms these roles or ‘hats’ are worn by the same person – you have specific roles when it comes to larger firms.

SH:We’re seeing firms recruit staff without an accounting background: 18+ year-olds with iPads in their hands, employing them because they understand tech. Clearly it’s also about mindset rather than age… but in reality for many there’s that ‘desktop memory’ in your mind, which isn’t there for someone starting fresh. Junior staff are helping with onboarding, for example.

VS:Yes, we’re seeing conversations being pushed down in the firms – not all partner-led… more of a team-based approach. Your age and experience aren’t limiting factors on who you can have conversations with. The person who’s comfortable sitting in a room having conversations will be recruited.

SH:There are other emerging titles: relationship manager, business development and software support for clients. Firms are investing in people and skills. You used to be able to hide behind numbers, but firms are saying: ‘We need to look at how to upskill our team to have conversations.’ There is still a need for technical specialists and software won’t replace them. But there’s going to be more face time, and that’s where we see the shift.

 

How to change your practice

VS:Fundamentally, you need clean data coming in: from OCR, bank feeds and so on.

SH:It’s about having a single process for a single task. If you standardise processes, you’ll reap the rewards – and allow you to scale-up.

VS:The cloud and digitisation allow you to gain an authenticity of data. However, if you don’t standardise processes you will have very stressed staff through MTD.

Summary

VS:Technology is the key to scale and profitability. Standardisation, repeatable processes… the more you can do that, the more you’ll be in great stead.

SH:And make sure you do it for the right reasons. It’s not about MTD. You need to understand the ‘why’ before the ‘how’. Why are you making the change? Get the tech in and let us do the processing. It’s about improving the conversations and then your team becomes much more valuable because they have those client relationships.